Merfyn Temple - the man who defied a dictator

The Midweek Herald revisits an interview with Reverend Merfyn Temple, who has died at the age of 92. The interview took place in July 2008.

WITH his hand outstretched, he clutched a Bible and declared: “So help me God.”

This was Robert Mugabe, tyrant and murderer of his own people, swearing himself in as president of Zimbabwe for a sixth term following an election in which there was really only one candidate - himself.

The televised ceremony, held just hours before the start of an African Union summit in Egypt, was the sickening, but predictable, climax to a rigged ballot that saw opposition supporters beaten, raped and even murdered.

The sight of the 84-year-old dictator clinging on to power, after he lost an election to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in March, had Western leaders queuing up to heap condemnation upon condemnation and church leaders urging military intervention.

Watching it all - and praying for action - was former Mugabe prisoner Reverend Merfyn Temple, of Honiton.

The retired Methodist minister was jailed for speaking out about Mugabe’s tyranny in 2005. At the time, Mr Temple was 86 years old.

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“I arrived in Zimbabwe and announced to everyone what I had said in a letter to Mugabe. He was doing terrible damage to his own country,” Mr Temple, who is now 89, told the Herald on Monday.”

It is against the law in Zimbabwe to criticise the president.

“I said, very clearly, that he should be arrested and tried before the Court of Human Justice in The Hague.

“I was thrown in jail. They took everything off me, except my shirt and trousers.

“I was left barefoot.”

Mr Temple was held for four days, with 15 other prisoners in a cell built for six.

“The food was absolutely terrible. I didn’t eat,” he remembers. “The bunks were concrete, but there were 16 of us sleeping on the floor, or two to a bunk.”

Mr Temple says his arrest and imprisonment caused “embarrassment” to Mugabe.

“The charges were dropped and I was hastily deported,” he said. “There would have been a hoo-ha, if he’d liquidated me. I was very lucky, because nobody knew I was there.”

Mr Temple describes the recent election in Zimbabwe as a “terrible, terrible travesty”.

“People were tortured and killed. In view of that, how can he be president?” he asked. “The election was absolutely appalling.

“Everyone has condemned it.

“Everyone knows he has declared himself president.”

In the run-up to the election, 90 opposition supporters were murdered, 2,000 were jailed, 10,000 injured and 200,000 displaced by Mugabe’s henchmen, it is alleged.

Mr Temple, of Orchard Way, has been in touch with the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who has removed his ‘dog collar’ and says he will not put it back on until Mugabe is removed from power.

He has also listened very carefully to advice being given to world leaders by Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town, who is calling for military intervention.

“When you look at Desmond Tutu’s history, you should listen to what he’s got to say,” said Mr Temple.

“I’m not sure Zimbabwe’s African neighbours will be willing to act. Mugabe is a very wicked man.

“He can talk till kingdom come and he will do his best to persuade African leaders to recognise him.

“What I would like to see is an international peace force sent in, but I don’t think it will happen.”

The Herald reminded Mr Temple that Mugabe has been quoted as saying only God could remove him from power.

With the image of his hand clasping a Bible still fresh, what does Mr Temple think about Mugabe’s ‘faith’?

“He doesn’t believe in God,” he replied.

“Only a very wicked man could do what he has done. I pray for the people of Zimbabwe.”